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No. 1 St. Frances boys basketball pulls away from No. 3 John Carroll, 71-61

St. Frances boys basketball player Elijah Epps talks about his team's win over John Carroll. (Glenn Graham, Baltimore Sun video)

The St. Frances boys basketball team was protecting a six-point lead against John Carroll in the final minute when they took 10 seconds off the clock before getting fouled.

The No. 1 Panthers passed the ball around to help chew up the final seconds, a sign of their growing confidence.

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St. Frances did all the right things in the closing minutes, and senior guard Elijah Epps scored 14 points to lead a balanced effort in a 71-61 win over No. 3 John Carroll.

Sophomore guard Adrian Baldwin finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and seven assists with senior guard Rajeir Jones adding 13 points.

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St. Frances improved to 18-2, 8-0 in the Baltimore Catholic League and 7-0 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference’s Red division. John Carroll (11-4) is 3-3 in the BCL and 5-1 in the MIAA A’s Black division.

McDonogh's Noah Locke and John Carroll's Montez Mathis also were nominated for the prestigious senior showcase.

“They’re just playing really well together, they really love each other and they’re playing for each other,” St. Frances coach Nick Myles said. “So everybody is sacrificing something and I’m really proud of them.”

With the game tied at 51 with 5:50 to play, the Panthers outscored the Patriots 20-10 to pull away. They got key stops, important rebounds and made the extra pass on offense. Epps found Jordan Toles (eight points) underneath for a dunk to make it 59-53 with 3:08 to play. Toles found senior Edward Ferguson (eight points) in the left corner for a 3-pointer to make it 64-56 with 1:44 to play. Then Epps made four free throws in the final 1:28 to secure the lead with Toles providing the finishing touch with a windmill dunk as the buzzer sounded.

“John Carroll’s a good team, so we just kept fighting and we didn’t stop,” Baldwin said. “We’re not going to let anybody push us around and we’re not backing down from anybody.”

For John Carroll, senior guard Montez Mathis led all scorers with 21 points, while Yavuz Gultekin scored 16 and Immanuel Quickley added 15.

“I don’t think we played well at all. I don’t think we played well individually or as a team,” John Carroll coach John Zito said. “We missed a lot of free throws and we didn’t rebound the ball very well. St. Frances is a tough, tough team.”

Much like the teams’ first meeting at John Carroll on Nov. 28 — a 78-73 overtime win by St. Frances — the first half Wednesday was tight with the Panthers taking a 32-30 lead at the half.

St. Frances led most of the half with balanced scoring — Baldwin, Epps and Koran Moore each adding six points — while Gultekin had 13 to help keep the Patriots close.

The Patriots built a five-point lead early in the third quarter when Quickley hit a 3-pointer with 7:07 to play, but two 3s from Jones helped the Panthers quickly climb back.

JC — Quickley 15, Mathis 21, Craig 2, Haughton 5, Gultekin 16, Ismail 2. Totals: 19 16-26 61

SF — Baldwin 12, Epps 14, Diop 5, Jones 13, Ferguson 8, Moore 9, Toles 8, Montague 2. Totals: 25 14-25 71

Half: SF, 32-30

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